By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
January 4, 2019
My first column in 2019 is dedicated to Khwaja Syed Mohammad Moinuddin Chishti, a sufi mystic who is also known as Khawaja Ghareeb Nawaz (the benefactor of the poor). I am writing this article while on pilgrimage to his shrine, Dargah Ajmer Sharif.
The shrine, located at Rajasthan, is considered to be one of the most sacred Muslim shrines in the Subcontinent and its doors are open to everyone. Like other devotees, I also believe that anyone who prays with a clean heart at the shrine gets all his/her wishes fulfilled. That’s why I offered special prayers for Pakistan’s prosperity and regional stability, and improvements in bilateral ties between India and Pakistan.
Around 150,000 devotees visit Ajmer Sharif on a daily basis. Bollywood celebrities also frequently visit Dargah Ajmer Sharif to seek blessings for their careers.
During my stay, I observed that people from diverse backgrounds visited Ajmer Sharif and sought blessings at the shrine. I also got an opportunity to speak with many of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti’s devotees, including Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. Many Pakistani devotees complained about the hurdles involved in obtaining an Indian visa.
Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti was born in a rich family in Sistan in present-day Iran. After the demise of his parents, he went to Samarqand and Bukhara to gain religious teachings. In search of knowledge and spiritual peace, he travelled to many regions, such as Iraq, Khorasan, and other Central Asian territories.
During his travel, he emerged as a mystic saint and provided guidance to thousands of followers. He also offered Haj and Umrah, and finally travelled towards India. After spending some time in Lahore and Multan, he made Ajmer his home until his death. He dedicated his entire life towards the noble cause of serving poor and vulnerable communities, irrespective of their race and religion.
Khwaja Moinuddin is also known as the ‘king of kings’ because he managed to spiritually rule over the hearts and minds of thousands of people.
Almost every ruler of India has visited to the shrine. Shamsuddin Iltutmish was the first one who offered a Chadar (shawl) at the Dargah. Mughal emperor Akbar walked bare-foot from Agra to the shrine in Ajmer to pray for a son. His successors, including Jahangir and Aurangzeb, were also devotees of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.
Almost all maharajas, rajas and Nawabs of the princely states of India used to visit the Dargah on a regular basis. When British imperialists ruled over India, Queen Mary had offered a Chadar at the shrines.
According to historians, Queen Victoria visited the shrine to pay homage to Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. Lord Curzon, a viceroy of British India, also visited Ajmer Sharif paid tribute to the sufi mystic.
After Independence, the government of India began managing the shrine under the Dargah Khwaja Saheb Act, 1955. No matter which political party rules India, it is mandatory for every head of state to visit the shrine.
Rulers from South Asian countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka also visit the shrine. Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf were among the prominent Pakistani rulers who visited Ajmer Sharif. It was also once reported that when Asif Zardari was in jail, Benazir Bhutto prayed here for his release. When he was released, both of them visited the Dargah together.
Former US president Barack Obama had also offered a Chadar at the shrine. This was for the first time that the head of any non-South Asian country and superpower extended spiritual greetings of peace to the king of kings.
It is indeed the dream of every Pakistani citizen, regardless of whether he/she is Hindu or Muslim, to visit Ajmer Sharif. In our 71-year history, India and Pakistan have fought horrific wars and are still confronting each other on every front. It is time to understand the message of spiritual leaders who struggled for a peaceful society based on kindness, forgiveness and tolerance.
Following the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor in November 2018, I urged both governments to focus on establishing the Ajmer Sharif Corridor to ensure visa-free entry to Pakistani nationals who want to visit the shrine. Improved bilateral relations are in the best interest of both countries. In the next step, visa-free entry should be granted to facilitate pilgrimages to other sacred sites like Dargah Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi, Hanglaj Mata Temple in Balochistan, and Shri Anandpur Temple in Teri, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani is a member of the NationalAssembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.